Seo and his colleagues analyzed the responses of 6,504 middle school and high school students surveyed from 134 schools in 50 states between 1995 and 2008. Participants were asked if they had seriously thought about committing suicide during the past 12 months and how they perceived their body weight. Researchers found that suicidal thoughts were higher in those who thought they were overweight compared to those who didn’t see themselves as overweight (18 percent vs. 10.4 percent), even after controlling for such variables as age, ethnicity and depression and independent of actual body mass index (BMI).
Furthermore, the effect was stronger in girls at age 10 than in boys. Overall, there was a decrease in suicidal ideation as participants aged between 15 and 21 years old. By the time they were 28 years old, the rate of suicidal thoughts leveled off to 5.8 percent in those who didn’t perceive themselves as overweight and 6.7 percent in those who did.
The study is published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.